Kings down Ducks to advance to Western Conference final
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Sitting in another jubilant dressing room deep inside another dazed road arena, Anze Kopitar simply stopped trying to explain the Los Angeles Kings’ big-game brilliance.
In nearly every tight playoff spot over the last three years, his Kings have emerged and advanced — even when they end the career of hockey icon Teemu Selanne along the way.
Kopitar knows the Kings’ tenacity can’t be easily defined, and it’s almost impossible to capture. But it has taken them all the way back to the Western Conference finals after they finished off the rival Anaheim Ducks in grand style, 6-2 in Game 7 on Friday night.
“It’s hard to say what it is, but it’s all in this room,” said Kopitar, the Kings’ leading scorer. “We don’t look outside too much. We believe in this room. We knew this would have to be our best game of the series, and it was.”
Justin Williams, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards scored in an overwhelming first period. The Kings advanced to their third straight conference finals by improving to a jaw-dropping 6-0 when facing elimination this spring. Los Angeles has won two seven-game series as it heads to Chicago for Game 1 on Sunday.
Kopitar, Marian Gaborik and Tanner Pearson also scored, and Jonathan Quick made 25 saves to help the Kings claim the first post-season Freeway Faceoff series with back-to-back wins over their top-seeded Southern California rivals.
“We’re built for the playoffs, for sure,” Kings defenceman Drew Doughty said.
“We struggled during the regular season. I don’t know the reason why, but we’re always ready for when it really counts.”
The Kings added to their 7-1 record in elimination games over the past two years, showing the remarkable poise that has led to eight playoff series victories in three seasons. They earned a rematch with the Blackhawks, who eliminated them in five games last spring.
The 2012 Stanley Cup champions led 5-0 late in the second period in Anaheim, never allowing the Ducks to get going in their own building. Los Angeles shredded rookie goalie John Gibson for four goals in the first 22:02, and the Ducks lost a Game 7 for the second straight year.
“Really tough emotions right now,” said captain Ryan Getzlaf, who scored one goal in the series. “They came out and played the way they can play. They know what they’re doing in these situations.”
The defeat likely ended the career of the 43-year-old Selanne, who intends to retire. Both teams paid tribute to the Finnish Flash after he took the final shift, eventually waving a melancholy goodbye to his Anaheim fans.
“It’s got to be a lot of happiness later, but it is hard right now,” Selanne said. “It was going to be ending in a great celebration or a big disappointment, and we didn’t get the win.”
Kings fans’ chants of “This is our house!” echoed through Honda Center, where the Ducks were one of the NHL’s best home teams during the best regular season in franchise history.
The Kings got stellar performances from their best big-game players. Quick improved to 3-0 in Game 7s. Williams kicked off the first-period onslaught with his sixth goal in six career trips to Game 7. Williams also has six assists in those deciding games.
“I’m proud of my numbers in Game 7, but the one I’m most proud of is 6-0,” Williams said.
Gaborik scored six goals in the series’ four games in Anaheim, giving him an NHL-best nine goals in his first post-season with the Kings. Gaborik, Williams and Richards are unbeaten in six career trips to Game 7; Carter improved to 4-0.
The 20-year-old Gibson was overmatched, yielding four goals on 18 shots before getting pulled for Jonas Hiller, the dependable veteran benched twice by coach Bruce Boudreau in the season’s final weeks.
Boudreau dropped to 1-5 in his six career trips to Game 7s with Washington and Anaheim, losing all five times at home.
“The first period was like men against boys, quite frankly,” Boudreau said. “They were bigger, stronger, more determined. Everything we said we didn’t want to do, we did.”
The game was an unsightly farewell to Selanne, whose 21-season NHL career began in Winnipeg in 1992 and included parts of 15 seasons in Anaheim. He scored 684 regular-season goals, but had just two goals in 12 playoff games this spring.
“It will be great memories I will live with for the rest of my life,” Selanne said. “I would never have expected to have this kind of career. I am very thankful for that.”
Game 7 also might have been a finale for Saku Koivu. The 39-year-old Finnish centre said he’ll wait several weeks before deciding whether he’ll retire after 18 NHL seasons.